Category: Word of the Year

Work + Play = Summer Holidays

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We spent Canada Day weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s farm. This tradition stretches back to before CJ. When we remarked on this, CJ gaped at us in horror and disbelief: “WHAT?!” I know, kid. It’s hard to believe there was a time when you didn’t yet exist.

This is our first week of summer holidays, and the first summer I’ve attempted to work approximately as many hours as during the school year. Babysitting has been arranged; we’re on day two, and so far, so good, thanks to my trusty ear plugs. But … will it be hard to work from 9-3 while the children play? Will I regret not taking time off? Will the kids feel like they’ve had a real summer?

Here are a few of my compensatory plans:
* biking to swim lessons at the outdoor pool (shifting work hours to accomodate)
* post-3pm outings to library, Herrles, park, air conditioned mall, etc.
* looking after the neighbours’ chickens (all this week! nearly a dozen eggs collected this morning!)
* dogsitting (first go, this weekend; and we’d be open to dogsitting more often, if you have a dog you’d like sat)
* one promised day-trip to the local outdoor water park (Albus got a free pass for volunteering as a crossing guard at school; very clever, local outdoor water park, very clever)
* summer movie matinee
* one week away at a cottage
* visiting brand new cousin, when born (due August 8th!)
* ?? TBA
* please share your plans and ideas

And a few more compensatory plans, for myself:
* swimming during the little kids’ swim lessons
* more exercise in the evenings, fewer early mornings (I’m down to two/week, and barely managing it; no naptime, and late nights)
* stretching after soccer
* taking time to hang the laundry outside, even during work hours
* saying yes to social invitations

On being a freelancer, in earnest

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photo shoot out-take

I’ve been writing non-stop, for pay, for the past week and a half. This week’s assignments have focused on Canada Day. Several stories involved interviewing new and relatively new Canadians, which was a wonderful experience. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story has some kernal that is poignant or humbling or moving; and I love listening.

A new and exciting development is that I’ve also been assigned to take some of the photographs to accompany the stories.

Let me tell you about yesterday, which was particularly manic and fun.

I started the morning with spin/weight class. Took a quick nap after seeing kids off to school. Biked to an interview. Raced home in order to prepare and test a variety of recipes — food for an imaginary Canada Day party. “I love my job,” I thought, dashing around my kitchen in the middle of the afternoon, delicious smells wafting. With help from Zoe, party-planning friend extraordinaire, we decorated and styled a small area of the back porch as if for a “party,” arranged the food, and I took photos. We worked at a crazy pace. I was trying to get everything done before children arrived home from school. And food is tricky to photograph, as anyone who follows my blog knows. I was thankful for great natural lighting, borrowed glassware and linens, and for the daughter who arrived home early and agreed to be photographed eating a cupcake while smiling non-stop (as directed!).

“Even fake smiles look real in photos,” I assured her. And, as you can see from the evidence above, they do.

It was a crazy fun afternoon.

I’ve made a discovery: all those shameful wasted years of reading cheesy women’s magazines has finally paid off. “Service-oriented copy,” as it’s known, simply flows from my fingertips.

Meanwhile, pleasurable discoveries and cupcakes aside, yesterday rolled on at its manic pace. For supper, we ate the food I’d photographed (bonus!). I processed and sent photos to my editor. I biked with soccer girl to the park. I ran 12km in just over an hour (I can’t do my long run this weekend — too busy with soccer tournament and dance recital — which is why I added mileage). We biked home. Put children to bed. Folded laundry. Worked on stories some more. Briefly spent time talking to husband on couch. Dropped plan to meet up with sibs to celebrate birthdays (something had to give).

Crashed.

Slept like a rock. I love sleeping like a rock.

On another note, let me share with you a pang. Sometimes I look at my children and wonder whether I’m keeping close enough track of their individual needs. In my busyness, in this great whirl, am I overlooking something important? Will each feel cherished and treasured by their mother? When problems arise, and heartache, as inevitably happens, do I spare enough time and attention to help them?

As my working life expands, as I prioritize earning a greater share of our family’s income, what falls through the cracks? What gets minimized or ignored or even lost?

It’s raining, it’s pouring

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how does your garden grow?

It never rains but it pours.

Those old tried and true phrases sure are tried and true. My kids love them, especially AppleApple, who is a word-fascinated child, and a writer in the making. Here is a funny poem she wrote recently: “I dropped a glass upon the floor / My mom came charging like a boar / Now I have an extra chore / To pick that glass up off the floor.”

“You captured me very accurately,” I said. (I hate messes; I probably do charge exactly like a boar when I hear the sound of a giant mess being made.)

“But I don’t really have chores to do,” said AppleApple.

Well, we all make things up. If you’d like to hear about the things that I make up, you can come to the Waterloo Public Library this evening at 7pm. I plan to read a story I’ve not read before, and will also be answering questions like, Did that really happen? What’s true? What’s invented?

It is raining and pouring very nice things these past few days. It is raining writing work, frankly, and I’m pleased. Some of the work I’ve been doing is essentially invisible. I’ve even taken on work minus a byline because the pay is good. Perhaps as a proud writer, I should not confess such things. I work just as hard on every single task, whether or not I’m getting credit, due to my obsesssive-compulsive character. But then, I work just as hard on learning how to kick a soccer ball, truth be told. It would be nice to be able to regulate this dial, to turn down the inner perfectionist, but hey. It’s brought me here. I accept it.

Not to get too far off topic, but I’d like to share my theory about work. I figure I’m about a decade behind where I would have been, had I stayed at my job at the National Post. And I’m not fussy about it, or regretful in the least, because those were years well-spent with my children, and yes, I did continue to write fiction throughout. But I also accept that I have catch-up work to do, and experiences to gain, and therefore I’m willing to take jobs that are not particularly glamourous. Experience is experience. I would like to be an excellent interviewer, and I would like to write stories that dig deep into subjects that call out to be explored, to have light shone upon. Those are my goals. This is the path I’m choosing.

As a proud writer, I’m also thrilled to share the news that I’ve been invited to the Vancouver International Writers Festival in October. Insert large paragraph of exclamation marks, here:

I’ll also be at the Winnipeg Writers Festival in September, and Eden Mills Writers Fest also in September. And Word on the Street here in Kitchener. It will be a busy fall.

Meantime, back to work. I’ve got some interviews to do.

What matters

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pianohands1
:: Practicing matters. And you can practice anywhere. (She’s practicing, on her lap, the song she’s memorized and is about to perform.)

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:: Being willing to try matters. Signing up for an extra recital, in preparation for a more intense competition next week. Wearing a new dress (and running shoes; just in case). Brushing your hair.

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:: Being supportive matters. Even when the recital is long. Even when there are no snacks. Even when you have to do everything imaginable to keep quiet. (Toward the end, CJ was making silent faces to entertain himself; by the last performance he was literally whacking himself on the head repeatedly, but kind of quietly. So he made it through.)

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:: Performing matters. Getting up in front of an audience. Doing your best. Sharing what you’ve learned. (At this point in any recital in which any of my children have ever played, I start to cry. It’s involuntary, and happy, but I do try to rein myself in, lest I embarrass the performer.)

:::

On this third day of writing week, I am reminded of a few more things that matter, a great deal, to me.

:: Exercise matters. Note to self: no matter how you may want to, do not sit for two days straight without taking time to go outside and move. And breathe.

:: Perspective matters. It’s hard to get perspective inside a room with a closed door. See above, plus add in kids and friends and husband.

:: Kindness and gratitude matter. I can’t write what I want to write by force.

:: Preparation matters. I am at the beginning of a project, not the middle, not the end. Here are some metaphors. You can’t go into labour if you’re not even pregnant. And, the work I need to do now is like composting. Layering information, layering ideas. It looks like waste at this stage. It won’t look so good, either, when it starts to rot. But given time, and turning, it will become rich soil. And then I can plant a new garden.

:::

Read between the lines, and you’ll guess. This is/will be a tough week. But I’d like to note two lovely and unexpected things that have happened so far.

:: On this third day of my writing week, I wrote a new song.

:: Yesterday, the power went out, and I wrote for several hours with pen and paper. I liked it a lot. No distractions.

Today’s experiment

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balancing

Today, I am experimenting. Can I compartmentalize and work on two projects at the same time? I am going to attempt to develop my new character (ie. creative, not-yet-for-profit work), even while keeping several irons in the fire for a freelance piece I’m writing (ie. less creative work-for-pay). The new book, of course, has no due date, no deadline. The freelance piece does. I am obsessive about meeting deadlines (not necessarily a bad thing); except I’m so obsessive that I frequently meet deadlines well ahead of schedule. And honestly, I’m not concerned about meeting this one. I know I can do it. Things are moving along nicely. I know this. Still, my instinct is to worry it until it’s done. Thing is, I can’t finish this morning. There are interviews yet to do and other people’s schedules to take into account. More to the point, I don’t need to finish this morning. The deadline isn’t until next week.

So. Can I step back, set it aside, not worry about it, and work productively on something completely different?

As I say, it’s an experiment. It had better work, because, frankly, this could be my life for a long long time. It already is my life, you say? What with the children, and the cooking, and the triathlon training, and the book-writing? It’s funny, but those things all fit together in a long-term way that doesn’t trouble me. They’re all part of a steady routine, an ebb and flow that isn’t exactly predictable, and yet seems symbiotic somehow. More of this, less of that; more of that, less of this.

If I don’t write a blog post today, I’ll write one tomorrow. If supper is on the table late, well, eat some crackers and cheese, kids. If I have to drop a writing day to take a kid to the doctor, my book doesn’t know it. In all of these circumstances, I’m flexible. But give me a deadline and I focus to the point of compulsion. Hm. Maybe this goes back to childhood: feeling a sense of responsibility as the eldest of five, wanting to please, anxious over any perceived failure, stomach in knots if we were late for school. I was “high-strung.” Maybe, maybe, in some circumstances I still am.

My goal for today: Trust myself. I will get the job done. All in good time. And meantime, there is other work to be done, and it’s just as valuable, even if invisible.

:::

Yesterday, a client of Kevin’s brought him a ripped-out page from the latest issue of Elle Canada. “Tracking the best in movies, books, music and art,” says the page. “This month, we’re inspired by free spirits.” And there is The Juliet Stories! I love that Juliet is being identified as a free spirit. (Wasn’t “spirit” my word of the year when I was writing Juliet?) There’s a dark side to being a free spirit, of course, and I suppose that’s partly what the book is about; but sometimes I wish I were more free of spirit — colourful, creative, adventurous, alive. Writing is my window into all those things I couldn’t actually be.

:::

Finally, two exciting reading discoveries.

1. CJ is “reading” to us. I’m pretty sure he’s essentially repeating memorized text, but he links the words on the page with the words he’s saying. Out and about, he notices and reads signs (STOP is a good one), and he notices words and points out letters and letter sounds that he knows. Exciting!

2. Fooey read bedtime stories to CJ last night. For the record, I still love reading bedtime stories to the kids, but I’m not always available — last night I was walking Albus home from piano lessons. I got home in time to hear the tail-end of the last story, and give goodnight kisses. Sweet.

Be kind

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Before her recital yesterday, she displayed all of the emotions so familiar to anyone who has ever been asked to get up and perform. Why had she signed up? Why had I made her sign up? (I hadn’t.) She wasn’t going to do it. No one could make her.

I quickly deduced that the growls and howls were nerve-induced, and did my best not to be too peeved (even while dressing her, which she insisted I do, and which set my teeth on edge having just read a piece in the newspaper about my generation’s ridiculous parenting methods that cater to our children’s every need). Anxiety does unpleasant things to most of us, and when it’s a new feeling, of course we don’t know how to cope.

So my goal was to keep her going, get her there, reassure her (even while wondering, gee, has she actually practiced enough??).

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And then she played with complete confidence. She smiled, she introduced herself, her fingers met the keys firmly, and she bowed afterward grinning from ear to ear. Had I been another parent watching, I might have envied having such an apparently confident and well-prepared child. I would have been wrong, of course; she was as roiling with nerves as any of the others, and she rose to the occasion, playing better than I’d ever heard her play at home. Mysterious things, performances. It’s fascinating to see what gets drawn out of us when we’re called on. My heart was pounding with pride.

She was not amused by our April Fool’s joke this morning, however. I told her that she’d been asked to come back and play again today. Only the best performers had been asked, Kevin added. What? No way, nuh uh! Not going! She missed the compliment altogether.

:::

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An odd thing happened on Friday afternoon, after I’d posted about feeling aimless and wanting to bring good into the world. I went out for lunch with a friend, then stopped in to say hello to Kevin at his office, then stepped outside again and saw, directly in front of me, not three feet away, an elderly woman struggling with a walker. It took me half a second to reach her, and help her sit and rest. She’d had a fall and was rattled, confused. She’d walked a long way. She could not remember the name of her destination, but could describe it and knew what she was going there to do. Together, after some rest, we set out to find it together, and we did. It cost some time, and little else. She thanked me, but it was I who wanted to thank her. It was a pleasure to be able to help.

Later, reflecting on it at home, I thought about how grateful I was that I’d had the time to stop and help. When I’m rushed (which is often), it is harder to see, to stop, to take time. I also thought about how much I love helping; and I thought, this is what I would like to do with my life. But of course, how often do such situations present themselves, such simple one-to-one equations of need to ability to help? When I think about helping in more formal/institutional settings, it feels more complicated. I question my motives; I question my helpfulness. For example, when I helped this woman find where she was going, that was all I did. I did not delve deeper. I did not get to the root causes or make an attempt to prevent the situation from occurring again. I asked whether she’d been hurt in her fall, and she told me that she was fine, and I accepted that. She said she had family in town (I asked), and I accepted that they would be looking out for her in the future. I sensed that she valued her dignity. At what point does help become meddling? These are boundary questions. I tend to err on the side of caution. Because I don’t know the answers. Not all of them. Not even most of them. All I know is be kind.

There is much need in the world. Patterns recur. Pain fragments. Hurt multiplies. Some problems go deep, deep, deep.

How easy it is to take soup to a sick friend. How easy it is to quietly hug one of my children when he or she is sad. How easy it is to help a lost stranger find her destination. Is helping as simple as that? Or does it — should it — go deeper?

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